Kieran Read reviews Christine and the Queens’ headline show at All Points East, a day that also featured James Blake, Princess Nokia and Beach House
Covering two weekends with an array of acts and genres, All Points East is renowned as a musically diverse experience. How far this championed variety is stretched changes greatly from day-to-day, though also excitingly often on the same date. The festival’s third day, headlined by French electronic pop sensation Christine and the Queens (or simply Chris, as she frequently reaffirmed) had perhaps the most excitingly assorted roster of acts not only for All Points East, but the London festival scene at large. Unlike most under cards, usually consistent of less dynamic offspring of the headliner, the threads that combine each act on the line-up here are a dot-to-dot of influences, styles and ideals, all of which surface in Christine and the Queens. There’s an affinity for electronic and dance textures (James Blake, Maribou State, Metronomy), support of feminist causes and gender fluidity (Princess Nokia, Beach House) and a love for on-stage theatricality (Baloji, Yves Tumor). Not only does this amount to a continually exciting day of music, but proves the musical and social importance of acts like the headliner too.
Yves Tumor’s early set on the outdoor North Stage was both entrancing and confounding; there was something surreal about seeing an artist who so frequently inhabits the shadows in his videos stood in broad daylight. Regardless, considered as a solo performer, Yves Tumor was cativating. Shirtless, with a neon-green wig and heavy sunglasses, Sean Bowie refused to stay still, engaging with the audience by singing intently into them, continually leaping from stage to ground to the dismay of the stage managers. The addition of a full band offered the often reverb-heavy percussion of many Safe in the Hands Of Love cuts a greater vivacity and punch, rendering the performance an entirely separate experience. Out of his element, Yves Tumor’s early set proved a surprising success, flexing greater musical prowess than one may initially expect.
Energy remained high with the next couple of sets. Although the afrobeat bounce of Baloji had the main stage crowd captivated, it was an unparalleled performance from Princess Nokia that stole the entire event. Accompanied by two dancers (who were show-stopping in their own right), a DJ who refused to allow a lull of silence by constantly mixing and remixing others’ tracks, as well as an arsenal of her own bangers, Princess Nokia’s live show has become less of a traditional concert and more of an outright party. ‘Kitana’, ‘Brujas’, ‘Tomboy’ and ‘Mine’, all standouts from career-defining 1992 Deluxe, had the crowd in frenzy; having seen Nokia a few times now, I don’t think I have ever seen a crowd so adoring elsewhere. ‘I’m the luckiest girl alive,’ she would say at the set’s conclusion. This was untrue, instead outmatched by everyone else in the crowd who stood witness to one of the most fun sets I’ve caught in recent memory.
The detriment of following this set was bestowed upon notoriously chilled out indie-folkster Kurt Vile and his band The Violators. Instead, Vile impressed in his own ways, offering up a setlist of his most known numbers. Although hits ‘Jesus Fever’ and ‘Pretty Pimpin’ received the greatest reception, longer cuts that allowed his wonderfully catchy riffs to sprawl out and luxuriate a little, such as the hilariously laid-back ‘Bassackwards’ and almost-odyssey ‘Walkin on a Pretty Day’, were instead the highlight. Almost paradoxically, this sound encourages one to tune out, to talk with others, to enjoy the brief window of sunshine, meaning that the set, and most of Vile’s discography by extension, is doomed to fall by the wayside a little. For this purpose, however, Vile is pretty unparalleled, a provider of beautiful, twangy and breezy folk that won’t reach out to grab you, instead lazily hang in the background and keep the good mood rolling.
‘Stay tuned for Beach House!’ Vile would shout before exiting the stage, prompting a large surge from the outdoor stage to the nearby tent in search of the dream-pop critical darlings. Donned in darkness, the silhouettes of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally sauntered on and launched into the explosive, distorted shoegaze of ‘Dark Spring’ from latest, return to form record 7. Backed with an intoxicating light display and offering minimal on-stage conversation, Beach House’s illustriousness is carried forth into their live show, crafting a murky and immersive, reverb-drenched atmosphere throughout. 7 tracks ‘Dive’ and ‘Lemon Glow’, with newly expansive electronic textures, stood out, as well as ’10 Mile Stereo’ and ‘Walk In the Park’ from already-classic Teen Dream. The nuance of these records, which I assumed would be lost in a live setting, instead found greater power, and Beach House’s relentless critical appraisal seemed wholly justified.
Kamasi Washington, the arguable forerunner of the recent jazz resurgence, unfortunately failed to capture the audience in this way with his following set, perhaps the first occasion in which the scattered under card was spread a little too far. Offering robust, full-band renditions of Heaven and Earth cuts (and ‘The Rhythm Changes’ from 2015’s aptly titled The Epic, a clear set highlight), the outdoors stage didn’t compliment Washington’s saxophone flurries, the mixes a little muddied and crowd a little disinterested. This is not to detract from Washington as a musician (maybe the most talented on the line up), simply a reminder that some acts perhaps require certain venues and crowds to fully resonate. Perhaps the only disappointment of the day, Kamasi himself was certainly not accountable, and if anything has left me wanting to see him again under the appropriate circumstances.
The most pleasantly surprising performance of the day followed. James Blake, an artist that has achieved little exciting evolution over his career, offered a tight, hour-long set largely consistent of uninspired new album Assume Form that, against all odds, completely won me over. With ambient synths, lilting drum-patterns and subdued dance grooves intact, it is testament to Blake that, besides a few smoke and mirrors, watching him seated by a large keyboard proved engaging enough for total crowd absorption. Lesser cuts ‘Don’t Miss It’ and an extended ‘Voyeur’ flexed both his house roots and production wizardry, their execution in a live setting far more alien and exciting than on their respective records. Small quips, like an awkward avoidance of Travis Scott’s ‘Mile High’ verse, were largely overshadowed by this consistent proficiency. As torrential rain began pouring down, the final beats of sunshine fading, all things seemed aligned at the set’s conclusion, Assume Form ballad ‘Are You in Love?’ reconfigured as an epic, arm-in-arm sing-a-long. I left with an appreciation for Blake, the live artist, and a renewed interest for what he is yet to offer.
Amongst the crowd leaving his set, it was disappointing to see that many were headed for the exit instead of the night’s headliner. What they missed, a fiery, air-tight, tour-de-force performance from Christine and the Queens, turned out to be the lynch pin for the entire event. Ripping faultlessly and swiftly through her hits, each choreographed with pretty flawless dance routines along a walkway stretching into the audience, Chris never once let her foot off the pedal (disregarding a small on-stage fire that was dealt with promptly). It was hard to deny hits such as Dam-Funk produced ‘Girlfriend’, or ‘The Stranger’, as well as a handful of Janet Jackson and David Bowie covers, all of which triggered uproarious crowd response. It was a great shame that many missed Chris’ performance, and I can only hope that it was due to the sporadic bursts of rain. As the sky turned red above and the remaining audience stood mesmerised by the raw talent of all those on-stage, one could only feel sorry for those not in attendance.
Any doubts about the worthiness of Christine and the Queens as headliners were quickly dismissed here, though one cannot avoid the fact that it was a unique booking; they certainly are no Mumford and Sons, or The Strokes, or The Chemical Brothers. Instead, the entire ordeal felt like a close-knit collection of like-minded, creative individuals, Chris’ brand of explosive on-stage performance the only choice to conclude the impressive day. On this Sunday specifically, All Points East pulled together a fascinating showcase of music that relied less upon star-power and more upon musicianship and talent, and that’s certainly something that should be celebrated.